No Words Can Describe the Legacy of Harpo Marx
Yesterday was the birthday of the great and glorious Harpo Marx. No words can describe his legacy (honk honk!).
Anyone want to hear my theory about the Marx Brother and the Brothers Karamazov? No? That's fine, just watch this; it'll be good for your soul:
Harpo is, of course, most famous for his miming, letting his insane rubber face and his horn-topped cane speak for him. It turns out he became mute for the movies because, when he was young, he never was able to memorize his lines. Here's the justifiably famous "mirror scene" from Duck Soup. Harpo is on the right, disguised as his real-life brother, Groucho:
When my husband's dad was young, he lived in the house next door to Harpo and his family, and he always said that Harpo was the nicest man he ever met, and loved his four adopted kids to pieces. Isn't that a relief to hear?
I never especially enjoyed the harp interludes (his or anyone's. A harp is a harp), but I was fascinated at the change that came over his face and the way he carried himself as soon as he settled into the music. The mania dropped away and his eyes softened. We always used to fast-forward past the harp solos, but now I feel grateful that they were left in, because it gives us a chance to see something of the real man. You can see his sincere love of children in the beginning of this clip from A Night at the Opera, where he starts by playing the piano before moving to his harp:
According to this Telegraph UK story , the harp his mother Minnie leased for him was so cheap that it would have broken if he had tuned it right.
He tuned it incorrectly and played it on the wrong shoulder. Later musicians would sometimes learn the Harpo Way. He was keen to improve and became a better harpist by practising at least three hours a day. He even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play while he sat on the toilet.
It was common, at the time (when Hollywood was still transitioning from vaudeville and variety shows to full-lenth movies) to break up the action with music that didn't move the plot forward. I've been trying to do that myself, lately -- to just sit with music, at some point during the day, even if it's only in the car. We don't have to be telling jokes or running around all the time!
You could do far worse than to watch some Marx Brothers movies this weekend. If you're not already a fan, I recommend starting with Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, or Animal Crackers. The rest of the world is so ugly and so dire right now. Treat yourself to an hour or so when you can just laugh. Happy belated birthday, Harpo, and God rest your sweet and strange soul.